We recently got back together because he said he had made a mistake and that I was “the one.” Things resumed rockily at first but are going very well now. That is, until yesterday when I asked him if he still thought we might move in together in a few months when his lease is up. He was the one who had originally asked and I was the one who wasn’t ready. Now he says that he hopes we have a future together, but that he can’t give me an answer and it’s too soon to make any plans for our future (even just two months in advance). He told me he thought that we had gone through a lot only a month ago and he is focusing on the now. He says he’s still unsure of me, and that really hurts my feelings.
He says I have so many qualities that are exactly what he wants, but at the same time he also seems to have issues with how shy I am around new people, and he wishes I were more outgoing. I fear I may never be enough for him. And I’m confused about how someone can go from begging to get back together with you to being cautious and reserved about planning anything for a future with you.
I can see myself marrying this man, and he used to see that with me, but I really don’t feel like he does anymore based on his not being able to discuss any plans. Should I break up with him, or remain in the “now” too? — No Longer His Dream Girl
Oh man, your letter brings me back to the post-grad identity crisis I experienced many moons ago when I finished college, my friends all moved away, I couldn’t secure a good job, and my relationship suffered (partly) as a result of my ever-growing insecurity and general mental and emotional instability. It was not a good time. In fact, I consider that whole first year following my college graduation as probably the darkest of my life (which, I realize, is saying something about the relatively trauma-free existence I’ve led so far). But I also consider that formative period of my life one of tremendous personal growth, and the lessons I learned during it continue to inform the kinds of decisions I make and the advice I give.
One of the mistakes I made during that period was clinging to anything in my life that I believed would return the sense of stability and security that had so quickly been yanked out from under me. If I couldn’t have my friends or the college life I had loved so much or even a job that meant anything to me (or a job, period), then, dammit, I was going to make my relationship the center of my world (and, essentially, my identity). If everything else about my future remained totally murky, I would at least get some solid relationship plans set so that I had something to anchor me, to hang my hat on. I may not have known where my life was headed, but I could know who it was headed forward with, and that was something!
As in your relationship, my boyfriend was the first to make grand plans about our future and I initially wasn’t ready to move so quickly. While he was talking marriage and babies, I felt anxious about committing to all that. Until, suddenly, “all that” became the only potential image of a future I was able to actually picture. And just like that, I became super neurotic over any sign that my boyfriend might be changing his mind about me, about us — that maybe he wasn’t as committed as he had initially seemed to be. I picked fights with him all the time. I cried constantly. I was so nervous about losing the one thing in my life I thought I could count on that, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
I won’t pretend that my general state-of-mind and crazy-town behavior were the only reasons for our demise; we weren’t right for each other for a variety of reasons (and, of course, in retrospect, I’m very grateful I didn’t end up with this guy). But I certainly pushed my boyfriend away with my clinginess and neediness and confusion and misplaced anger and frustration and sadness. His feelings for me changed, but I had changed. Was changing. I was shedding my adolescent/young adult self and forming what would become my mature adult self, and there were a lot of growing pains involved in that metamorphosis.
That’s where you are now. And my advice to you is more in the vein of life advice than relationship advice. Because your relationship is just a metaphor for the internal struggle you’re dealing with. It’s an extension of your identity crisis. You can’t separate the two because nothing can be separated from what’s going on in your head right now. I know because I’ve been there. And I can say that you will get through this. You will get to the other side. But the other side may look completely different from what you’re imagining right now. And no amount of clinging to what feels familiar is going to protect you from the discomfort of shedding your skin.
So, stop clinging. Stop trying to control the outcome of your relationship. Do as your boyfriend suggests and live in the “now.” Take things one day at a time. Look for footholds outside your relationship to grab, and stabilize yourself. Reach out to those friends who have moved away. Can you visit them? Can they visit you? Take up a new hobby (or re-focus on an old favorite), especially one that gets you moving and releases stress. For me, that was kickboxing. I went to class four or five times a week and just worked that shit out. It was super empowering. I got in amazing shape in the process, too. And as my body got stronger and stronger, so did my spirit. Years later, during another challenging period in my life, I started volunteering at my local no-kill cat shelter, which proved to be a very healing environment and experience for me. (It’s also where I found Miles!). I recommend you seek out opportunities and activities that have the potential to bring you similar joy and satisfaction and that can provide a much-needed break from the anxieties currently driving you.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.